Local photos of the past add to area's historical record

The Brainerd Public Library was awarded in 2014 a local Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage grant through the Kitchigami Regional Library System to start the Brainerd Lakes Area Historical Photo Scanning Project.

Men stand by a Northern Pacific Railroad box car in Brainerd for a group photo in this picture circa 1948. Submitted photo

To find out what Brainerd’s past looked like, all one has to do is flip a page.

The 2015 Brainerd History Week Committee teamed up with the Brainerd Public Library and the Crow Wing County Historical Society to share photos taken by area residents of interesting and historical views, according to organizers.

An index of historic photos submitted by local residents and scanned was created for 2015 and 2016, Brainerd Public Library Manager Jenny Hill reported on the photo project, which was started in March of 2015.

An image of the cover of the Brainerd Public Library's index of local residents' submitted and scanned images highlight the area's lakes and ties to the railroad industry.


It was funded with a Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage grant that provided for personnel time for scanning, advertising, a high-end scanner, an external hard drive for storage and printing of a booklet at the program’s close, according to local amateur historian Carl Faust.

“We scanned books that were in the public domain, and the project now has over 11,000 files. Not all are scans, as some are new releases and other communications, but all part of the history of the project,” Faust said earlier this month.

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The 2015 Brainerd History Week Committee thought at the time it would get area residents thinking about history before the history week event in June of that year.

“The Brainerd Public Library has circulating and reference copies,” Hill said of the printed compilation of scanned images. “The Crow Wing County Historical Society also has copies of both indexes and the scanned images, and they hold the copyright.”

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Two men stand by fish they caught at Shing Wako Resort on Lake Edward in this photo circa 1940. Submitted photo

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Faust said the unofficial goal of the original project was to “scan anything out there that is Brainerd or local history.” He credits former Brainerd Public Library Manager Jolene Bradley for the vision and execution of the project.

“In the first five sessions, over 200 photos and documents came in for scanning, all taken by area residents and likely never before published, and rarely seen,” Faust wrote in a 2015 overview about the project.


A collection of Breezy Point photos and histories assembled in the 1980s was donated for scanning. A postcard collector shared more than 100 of his images. A 1939 aerial map was also submitted for preservation, showing a pre-Highway 371 North as just a trail.

“This would a fabulous project to do again .... (and) should be made more available to the public online as the images are a wonderful research tool,” Faust said.

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The benefit of digitizing the submitted images of Brainerd’s past as the city celebrates the sesquicentennial anniversary of its founding this year is the metadata included with the image allows the cross-referencing of the photograph by date, location, donor, topic and more.

“A while back, we were looking for a photo of a certain building in town, and we knew we had it, but it was labeled ‘parades’ and filed as such in that box, so we missed it. … A simple search in the file would have found it in a flash (now),” Faust said.

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Brainerd 150 Logo.png
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Faust said he was surprised to find, as part of the community photo project, a photo taken in front of the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse depicting young men going off to war in 1942, in full dress suits and suitcases in hand.

“The amateur photographer is in possession of much of our history! This treasure trove of media must be located and preserved. … I am just amazed at how folks are so passionate about doing their own research on their buildings and families,” Faust wrote in his overview of the project.


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The Brainerd Public Library would like to preserve the area’s past by scanning photographs of cityscapes, buildings and community memories of the past, including scanning pictures of what the Highway 371 corridor looked like before Baxter sprung to life.

“It is hoped that this project will somehow continue as a regular part of preserving our heritage. It could be expanded by including old home movies,” Faust wrote.

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A Brainerd Then and Now sign, showing Laurel Street from the 1920s, hangs across the street from the subjects seen in the photo, namely the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse and the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Library Saturday, April 10, 2021, in downtown Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

The goal is to collect images that may have not been seen before that would lead to insights into the history of the Brainerd lakes area and to help future researchers.

“A whole era of several generations of photos are either lost, hidden or forgotten in slides. For many families, only slide photos were taken and few were ever printed out. Printing was expensive, and slides were incredibly cheap,” Faust wrote of slides and film negatives.

Examples of items organizers are still hoping to scan are recent and old historical photographs and documents, important buildings, prominent community members, city scenes, the Highway 371 corridor change, local postcards and more.

“There are many more local history researchers out there than we realized,” Faust wrote.


How to help

For those interested in sharing their photos, slides, film negatives, etc. from the past of the Brainerd lakes area, send an email to , or call the Brainerd Public Library at 218-829-5574 to schedule a meeting time to scan the items.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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